A mother’s dilemma

A mother’s dilemma

We are both working parents, and when I come home, I have no choice but to multitask. I have two children (aged 6 and 7) to supervise, and clients in another continent to connect with. However, my children (supported by my mother) are extremely resentful of me talking on the phone or being on the computer, though I sit at the dining table and watch over their homework or even play games with them at the same time. I think it’s also a lesson in multitasking for them, actually.

I can’t agree with you. While multitasking on some fronts is inevitable, multitasking in homework situations is turning out to be a way of doing many things badly—multi-failing. And relationships are the first casualty.

Since your children are clearly protesting, could you consider this: promise that you will not switch on the computer or pick up your phone after you come home from work, through their dinner, and till they sleep at 9pm? Another parent says she would come home, chat with her children or play a game, or even read for them from a book, but have her phone plugged into her ear and her laptop open at the dining table—into which she would peep, chat online, check Facebook. If her children called for her attention she would say “But I’m here!" And would continue talking work with someone, or stay networked. She would not be able to do that fully either, as she had to tell these people too that she had to get back to the children.

I have two children, aged 13 and 11. I love my children, but I am beginning to wonder if I am less of a parent because I am not “into" them the way a lot of my friends are. They are not on my mind all the time, and I find that I seek out adult company over being with them at least two days of the week. I see how other parents meet their friends or relatives only if it involves the children, or if the children are occupied in school or something else. I worry that I may come across as a cold mother now to the children, because they must be seeing how much focus other parents put on their children. I have thought about this, and I am not cold towards them at all. It’s just that, in all honesty, they are not the centre of my universe. I haven’t also understood why many of my friends are constantly worried about their children. I never worry about them and their future. Please share your thoughts on this. My husband is the same way and he has no self-doubt on this front.

There are as many parenting styles as there are fingerprints, really. Yes, today, we see a large number of urban parents who are completely focused on their children in the way that you describe. However, that does not make parents like you “neglectful" or “derelict in their duty" as parents. In fact, parents with friends and pursuits of their own outside of their parenting activities are likely to be less stressed and give their children less stress too!

There is much debate about “helicopter" versus “hands-off" parenting. While the constantly hovering parent (the helicopter) may be appearing to you to be a more committed one, rest assured that this is not what children need or really benefit from. Creativity, lateral thinking, a better developed sense of self, learning from mistakes, and learning how to entertain oneself—these are some of the downstream advantages for a child who is not constantly watched and regulated and taught what to say, think and do.

As for the issue of “appearing cold" to your children, genuine love and caring, even if not demonstrated all the time, is what come through clearly. I would urge you not to be defensive and troubled about this, if you are indeed not a neglectful parent in the real sense of the word. Being “worried" for our children is the neurotic and anxious form of what should be “concern" for our children. Frankly, free-floating worry—about the future, about grades, about health—can only create an atmosphere of aggravation rather than demonstrate a parent’s love for their child. Many grown people in counselling complain about how they carried around the burden of guilt over their parents’ “sacrifices" and about how much their parents worried for them. This is surely not a recipe for a happy childhood. Your husband seems at ease with his parenting style, and I would urge you to gain the same kind of self-confidence about the way you relate to your children. The kind of detached attachment that you describe is a more balanced way of being with your children, particularly as they grow into mature youngsters.

Gouri Dange is the author of ABC of Parenting.

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com